The Otters made their first visit to Rhydyfelin last Saturday. Their Hawthorne Recreation Ground situated alongside the Merthyr - Cardiff highway is very basic in facilities, with a constant roar from the nearby traffic.
The weather forecasters were indicating rain, but it never arrived, although play took place under a very gloomy sky, with no floodlights to brighten the scene.
Rhydfelin were in 11th position before the game, but the game at Narberth, which the Otters won, indicated that they might be difficult opponents on home ground.
The Otters were forced to make a few changes which as the game proceeded seemed important. Jake Simm and Ryan Banner were unavailable, Dewi Williams moved into the second row and with Paul Davies injured the previous Saturday, Keiran Griffiths took his place at centre. Within minutes, influential back row Richard Rees was injured and was replaced by Sean Jenkins returning to the fray.
Rhydyfelin kicked off and immediately the Otters attempted to run the ball upfield. Unfortunately, a forward pass set the homesters into motion, driving forward with great intensity, setting up several successful rucks and forcing their way towards the south-east corner, before burly second row Corey Bushell broke clear and dived over for an unconverted try on five minutes.
Rhydyfelin forwards were aggressive in driving forward, moving through several phased rucks, but were eventually penalised. Jonathan Rogers found touch and from the lineout Alex Jenkins claimed clean ball, Rhys Lane at scrum-half fed it out and in midfield, Rhydyfelin were again penalised.
Ianto Griffiths kicked the penalty, gaining three points on eight minutes and making the score 5-3.
In the next six minutes, the aggressive defence by the home forwards caused several handling errors by the Otters. Alex Jenkins was gaining ball at the lineouts, but the Otters kept being penalised at the breakdowns and on 14 minutes fly-half Lewis Smith scored a further three points for Rhydyfelin.
Literally before the Otters could regain their composure, they were penalised again at the lineout. Rhydyfelin were given a scrum. The ball was released and opened out and with excellent support, it enabled captain and number eight, Sam Studley, to cross for a try, which Lewis Smith converted.
The score was now 15-3, but five minutes later, the Otters reduced the lead. From a penalty kicked to touch in the north-west corner, Alex Jenkins again provided clean ball to the scrum-half, who quickly fed it out, with play moving left, then switched right, before centre Keiron Jones, with quick feet, managed to evade the defenders to score an unconverted try, bringing the score to 15-8.
In the next seven minutes, Narberth saw quite a lot of the ball, Rhys Lane made a couple of breaks, but the Otters were offending each time at the breakdown. The Otters attempted to drive their way forward when perhaps opening up for the threes to spread the ball wide might have been a better option.
This period ended with Rhydyfelin being penalised for offside, enabling Ianto Griffiths to add three points to the Otters’ total.
Rhydyfelin responded determinedly and proceeded to hack the ball down the touchline and, on nearing the line, there was a furious exchange among the forwards, which led to the referee intervening and instructing both captains to cool matters.
Close to the Otters line, Rhydyfelin were awarded a penalty and kicked into touch. From the lineout, they attempted to maul their way over and claimed to have touched down, but the referee was unable to award a try and gave them a five-metre scrum instead. Rhydyfelin heeled and attempted several drives, before offending at the breakdown and enabling Narberth to clear their lines.
For a few minutes there was a kicking duel between the fly-halves, before Ianto Griffiths intervened and found touch. At the lineout, Alex Jenkins succeeded in denying Rhydyfelin the ball, which the Otters moved right, before Liam Hutchings was forced to kick ahead. As both he and Ianto Griffiths chased the ball, it was Ianto Griffiths who won the race for the touchdown, with a defender breathing down his neck.
Griffiths failed with his conversion attempt, but his try had put the Otters into the lead at 16-15 on 40 minutes.
Everyone expected the referee to blow for half-time, but he played a further six-and-a-half minutes. During this period, the Otters were penalised for a crossing offence. Lewis Smith kicked towards the corner, which Ianto Griffiths fielded and cleared. At the lineout, the Rhydyfelin hooker, Scott Pritchard, threw a quick ball, which was immediately passed back to him and he raced down the touchline, clear of defenders, to touch down in the corner for an unconverted try, providing his team with a half-time lead of 20-16.
During the first half, the Otters had made a slow start and whilst they looked capable of scoring, they were suffering too many offences at the breakdown and making passing mistakes. They were always a threat at the lineout, with Alex Jenkins in control, but Rhydyfelin seemed to control the scrum at times.
At the restart, the Otters looked more determined and after 10 minutes were awarded a scrum some eight metres from their opponents’ line, only to be penalised again, allowing Rhydyfelin to clear.
On 50 minutes, fresh legs were brought on for the Otters. Bradley Davies replaced Rhys Davies at loose-head, Rhodri Owens replaced Dan Smith at hooker and Lewys Gibby replaced Rhys Lane.
Unfortunately, the home team upped their game and on 58 minutes the Otters were penalised, allowing Rhydyfelin to kick to the 22. Following up quickly, they were able to pressurise the Otters close to the line and from a successful ruck, back row forward Kyle Perry picked up and was able to dive over the line for an unconverted try.
The Otters took Jonathan Rogers off the field and, readjusting the threes, moved Ianto Griffiths to fly-half and Moritz Neumann came off the bench to fill in at fullback.
At the scrums, the Otters were beginning to move Rhydyfelin around, pushing them back several metres.
Unfortunately, the defence came under a period of intense pressure at the breakdowns, enabling the opposition to kick and chase, twice causing the Otters to minor the ball over their line.
Then on 75 minutes, fullback David Grattan scored a try when he broke through the defensive wall with a well-angled run, with Lewis Smith adding the conversion points to give Rhydyfelin a significant 32-16 lead.
The Otters suddenly produced some form and, from an excellent drive and movement forward, caused Rhydyfelin to offend 10 metres out in front of their posts. Captain Alex Jenkins chose to take a scrum. The pack heeled and Lewys Gibby moved the ball left, ending with flanker Sean Jenkins scoring an unconverted try and bringing the score to 32-21 on 80 minutes.
From the restart, the Otters again attacked, with Nick Gale playing a determined part. This failed and setting up a further assault, they moved left and almost crossed the line, only to be called back for an offence, enabling Lewis Smith to kick the ball off the field for the referee to blow his whistle for full-time.
Unfortunately, the change in Otters’ fortunes came too late to save the game. Whilst supporters were disappointed, their gloom matching the light conditions, all agreed that on the day Rhydyfelin were the better team and deserved their bonus point win. This should move them up from 11th place.
Later, a disappointed head coach, Sean Gale, commented: “It was a disappointing performance, it was just not like us, there were so many elementary errors in our game. It was hard to believe. When we had the ball we went wide and ended up dropping the ball.
“In the second half, the plan was on any turnover ball to move out wide and expose their weakness by making their big forwards run around. However, if you have errors in your game, you cannot achieve.
“We missed Richard Rees when he had to go off. He is a main ball carrier. Sean Jenkins did well when he came on as the replacement. Centre Paul Davies was out and, although his replacement played well, distribution of the ball did not happen.
“It did not help not having a full second row, with Jake Simm and Ryan Banner both being unavailable. Teams at the lower end of the league will always want to have a go and we need to front up against them. We failed, we had plenty of lineout ball, but we did not seem to be able to move forward and gain ground. Tackling was too hig,h which enabled them to cross the gain line. It was a lacklustre display.”
Narberth fielded: Ianto Griffiths, Liam Hutchings, Keiron Jones, Keiran Griffiths, Nick Gale, Jonathan Rogers (Moritz Neumann), Rhys Lane (Lewys Gibby), Rhys Davies (Bradley Davies), Dan Smith (Rhodri Owen), Tom Slater, Dewi Griffiths, Alex Jenkins (capt.), Richard Rees (Sean Jenkins), Tom Powell, Steffan Phillips.